The Darkest Minds is a YA adaptation that arrives years after the YA dystopian boom has faded, adapted from a novel by Alexandra Bracken and I am not sure how she is not being sued into oblivion by Marvel for this blatant X-Men knock-off. The Darkest Minds starts with a plague that kills most of the children, but those who survive turn out to have mutant powers. Survivors are quickly rounded up and shipped off to camps where they live in pens and I cannot stress how deeply upsetting this is given the real-life situation with kids in camps at the southern American border. The books predate the Trump era and the movie was shot last year, so there is no way anyone could have predicted this, but the dystopian nightmare of The Darkest Minds is, at least in part, our current reality. I haven’t seen movie release timing this bad since Let’s Be Cops opened the weekend after the Ferguson unrest began in 2014.
The movie stars Amandla Stenberg as Ruby, one of the survivors who ends up in a camp. The deal is kids develop different powers which are classed in a color-coded system according to potential danger. “Greens” are the least dangerous, basically just super-nerds. Next are “blues”, who are all Storm, and then “golds”, who are Electro. Finally there are the two most dangerous classes: orange and red. “Oranges” have Professor X mind powers and “reds” are fire-starters. Frankly not sure why that classes as any more dangerous than someone who can command you to walk to your death, as Ruby does at one point, but then, the whole system is nonsensical. Except for the greens who are just really smart, all the kids seem equally dangerous. The main dude is a blue and at one point he blows cars off the road and he also has telekinesis powerful enough to hurl train cars around. That guy is at least as dangerous as Ruby but he’s only second-tier? Does this make more sense in the book? Because it makes no sense in the movie.
Ruby uses her mind control powers to fix her sorting hat ceremony so everyone thinks she is a green—in this case, “PLEASE Slytherin”—and for a while she manages undercover as a green. But her Indomitable Spirit inevitably gets her in trouble and a kindly doctor (Mandy Moore) helps her escape. At this point the movie gets even more narratively pretzelled and it takes HUGE amounts of exposition to keep things moving. Seriously, 90% of Minds is exposition, which makes it a chore to watch.
And that is a shame because Amandla Stenberg is wonderful and they are trying their hardest to sell this X-Men fanfiction, but they can’t save Minds. It’s so derivative you spend most of your time thinking about all the other, better things it reminds you of, and then it has the audacity to stage an unresolved, blatantly sequel-baiting ending that is actually infuriating. The movie is so transparently not good you KNOW it won’t be getting that sequel—indeed, the box office is uninspiring— which makes the ending that much more galling.
It’s just so frustrating when bad movies happen to good people. Director Jennifer Yuh Nelson makes her live-action debut after years working on the Kung Fu Panda franchise, and she puts together some nice shots—there is a school bus graveyard that stands out as a nice piece of world-building. And Stenberg and Dude Storm (Harris Dickinson, but I keep thinking of him as Not Nick Robinson) are both capable of SO much more than this movie is asking of them that when they do get something to chew on, such as the emotional climax of the movie, they blow it out of the water. But The Darkest Minds is too late to the party to make an impression, and it’s too derivative to offer up anything interesting. Between its terrible timing, unoriginal concept, and that maddening ending, The Darkest Minds is DOA. Amandla Stenberg deserves so much better than this.
Here's Amandla out during Comic-Con last month.